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Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones

Mohawks

The Mohawk nation, which has more than 16,200 members, is Québec’s most populous aboriginal nation. Approximately 2,700 Mohawks live outside the reserve, whereas 13,500 are spread out between three communities: Kahnawake (7,300), Akwesasne (4,900) and Kanesatake (1,300). The language generally spoken by the Mohawks is English. However, some speak the Mohawk language, while others speak French.

The Mohawks are part of the Iroquois nations which, prior to the arrival of the Europeans, formed the Confederation of Five Nations. Traditionally, their society was matrilineal, with women passing on the blood line and the clan’s identity. In 1649, the Mohawks, allies of the British forces, supplanted the Hurons who were the main trading partners of the French. As a result, the Mohawks acquired new hunting territories. In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries, several of whom settled in Canada, converted many Mohawks to Catholicism.

Beginning in the 19th century, Mohawks held occupations in great demand, such as that of paddler on the boats of the era that crossed the Lachine Rapids. Following the construction of Victoria Bridge in 1850, Mohawks acquired a world reputation as workers specializing in the construction of high steel structures.

The Mohawks of Kahnawake, located near Montréal, have taken charge of most sectors of community activity for several years now. Having entered into an agreement with Québec in 1984, they now assume full responsibility for the construction and operation of the Kateri Centre, a hospital. The community also has its own police force. The community’s schools, including the Survival School, offer instruction that integrates various aspects of Mohawk culture.

The Akwesasne Reserve overlaps the territories of the State of New York, Québec and Ontario. The governments of Québec, Ontario and Canada have helped give the Canadian Mohawk community basic infrastructures in the field of health, social services, recreation, education, training and the administration of justice.

The community of Kanesatake, which lives near Lac des Deux-Montagnes, is confronted with a fairly unusual territorial problem. Not only do the lands acquired by the Federal Government for the benefit of the Mohawks not officially constitute a reserve, they also overlap the properties of the inhabitants of Oka. The territorial question continues to be an issue in the region and was one of the causes of the Oka Crisis in 1990.

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Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones
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Last update: May 19, 2009
Online as of: November 11, 2004